UP!–Writers’ Conference Nerves–and NO-NOs!

SCBWI-GirlwithKiteThis past weekend was our always anticipated, ever energetic, inevitably incomparable, annual NJ SCBWI Conference 😀 It is an event I look forward to and can’t bear to miss. During my many years of involvement with our New Jersey Chapter, I’ve been blessed to have gained many friends in the KidLit community, one of them being pal and KidLit guru, Tara Lazar. If you’re a KidLit-er and are not familiar with Tara and her blog—Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)—you should be! One of the many things she is noted for, besides her writing talent, is having founded PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) 😎 .


Now post-conference, many of us are inspired to write about it in one way or another. Since I barely snapped any photos (though Robin Newman did!), I figured I’d pass on blogging about it this year, but then I read Tara’s much-needed post on a very important aspect of conferences and networking—mainly etiquette. Along with many other subjects I wish I had time to blog about, this was something I wanted to address at some point, so her spot-on post sparked what became an obnoxiously long comment by me. Rather than post all of it there, I thought it more appropriate to do that here. So this post is not about our NJ conference, but writers’ events in general.

Seeing as my son is grown and I no longer have a teenager in my midst on a regular basis, I’m somewhat removed from current lingo. In Tara’s recent post (The KidLit Conference Curse: FOMO) she introduced me to an acronym I hadn’t yet heard: FOMO. (I don’t want to be overly redundant, so you may want to read her post first in order to better understand mine.)

My Goldenlocks-cropped for blogFOMO = Fear Of Missing Out. This is a very common affliction, much more so with conference “rookies” than it is with veterans. This is because most newcomers are “green” and lack the kind of knowledge that’s gained largely through experience. Of course, if aspiring authors and illustrators are reading blogs like Tara’s and combing the internet (including social media) and libraries to learn about the children’s book industry and its craft, they are ahead of the game and may be privy to these things before they attend events and won’t make these horrid mistakes and possibly ruin their experience and even worse—their chances :\ .

For me, although in the very beginning of my journey felt the “FOMO” thing, I’ve never been the stalking type, but those anxious feelings were still there and it ruins the experience and influences—in a bad way—as to how you can sometimes think and, in turn, behave. Not good! I was often the opposite, actually, in that at my very first critique back in 2002 (not my first conference—that was in the 90s), I was my typical, curious, “I want to know about you” self so we barely talked about my manuscript which, by the way, at that time didn’t even suit that editor; she said she didn’t publish picture books! That was pre-Kathy Temean “match up” days.

contract contract CONTRACTWithout question, it’s the inexperience and ignorance of the realities of the publishing business (the YEARS of waiting and disappointment for most) that create these editors-and-agents-will-be-fighting-for-my-masterpiece delusions and that’s not good for anyone. The reality of it is that, even with all the research one should be doing on the editors and agents who are faculty at conferences, you simply can’t KNOW everything about their tastes and what they’re looking for, so even though you are hopefully an informed pitcher, it’s very much like a crap shoot. You cannot know, nor can you control what will or won’t strike someone’s interest. THAT is reality. That alone should take the pressure off. 🙂

kitten corneredDisappointment and rejection are difficult to deal with, and if we can avoid the pain, that’s a good thing. On the other side of the coin, what I find most disturbing are the cases in which aspiring authors and/or illustrators are so self-absorbed in their hunger for publication that they do not even consider the position of the agent or editor they “assault.” These sorts are guilty of extraordinarily inappropriate I’m-going-to-pitch-to-you-NOW-even-if-you’re-on-the-toilet, “got you cornered”-type atrocities. NOT cool x-( . Where is the respect? The empathy? Heck—just plain old common courtesy? How does someone forget that agents and editors are PEOPLE? Yep—human. Flesh and bone. AND—their personal space should be respected.

tiger snarlingI’ve often thought how difficult it must be to have everyone after you, not because of who you are as a person, but because of the position you hold. These agents and editors (and art directors and so on…) attend these events wanting to find the talented people to work with. They want to impart their knowledge and experience. They are in this with us, BUT—they put themselves in this position knowing that at any moment they could be blindsided and accosted, and possibly often. They attend unarmed, without a whip and chair to fend off the next saber-toothed wannabe! It’s not something to take lightly or be remiss about.

What any aspiring author or illustrator must learn is that you have to keep your hopes in check, and your stamina, perseverance and drive well-fueled. If KidLit is a genuine passion, even when you feel defeated, like you can’t take one more step—stop, rest your feet, hydrate, and you should be able to get back on track and keep trekking. It’s been said time and time again, and honestly, I don’t think it can be said enough. Tara reiterated it in her own words: “Getting published takes years and it is not a race. It’s a marathon, an insanely strenuous yet joyous journey.”

smiling kid with kittensSo if you’re going to attend a KidLit event, whether it’s a full-fledged conference or something smaller, don’t let ambition push you in the wrong direction, and go prepared and informed with the intent of relishing the incredible energy that fills a space of enthusiastic kindred spirits, along with all the event has to offer. For me, it is the relationships I treasure even more than the possible opportunities, and I’m talking about ALL relationships, from fellow pubbed and unpubbed members to faculty. The joy of sharing all that is to be shared within this community—which is like NO other—is by far the thing I can’t bear to miss if I don’t attend the conference every year. The year I did miss it I felt a very uncomfortable, huge void. Awful. Just awful. It was that “FOMO” thing, but not so much about publishing opportunities that I was missing out on. It was more the “missing out” on all the rest. I will never skip one of these events again—not if I can help it! 😀 😀 😀

I’d love to hear anything you might have to say on the subject, whether it’s opinion, experiences—anything 🙂 …



Note on photos: the girl dreaming, the tiger, and both kitten pictures were obtained at Photos for Class with each photo linking to each photographer.

24 thoughts on “UP!–Writers’ Conference Nerves–and NO-NOs!

  1. Donna, Terrific post. And many thanks for the shout out. I think just basic professionalism is key. Although, I can’t say that I haven’t introduced myself to someone in the bathroom. After all, we’re writers and it makes a great story afterwords. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Robin, and not that I haven’t spoken to people in bathrooms, too! I speak to all kinds of people in bathrooms, actually lol But when in a line or by the sinks. It’s the way some people can do these things that’s just awful. I know I’ve witnessed some “good” ones! And I actually met Julie in a bathroom, thinking she worked for the Princeton Library 😉 And Lauri told me about Susanna Leonard’s blog in a bathroom. ALL kinds of good stuff can happen there 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can understand how you feel, Donna! 🙂
    Common courtesy seems to have disappeared! It’s so sad. The bad or improper behavior of some ruin it for all the rest.
    Did your planning work well? I hope so! I admire you so much for that. 🙂
    I hope you never miss a conference again, I can see how much you love them! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a fascinating insight into conferences, it is important to be clued up and to enjoy it, I can understand some authors desperation to get published and be unprofessional in the moment but when it comes to it, they’ll end up with a reputation for i which will be detrimental.

    Liked by 1 person

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